Having moved a lot of my journalism about journalism from this blog to the Patreon platform, I seldom use this one any more, but I cannot think of anywhere else that is appropriate for what I am about to write, so I dusted off the admin password and here goes.
Every now and again something happens in the world that is a perfect storm, something that encapsulates the zeitgeist better than almost anything else.
In Ireland, those moments have been many and often wonderful – Italia 90, Riverdance, the Good Friday Agreement, but in this troubled world, the latest incident is a lot darker.
Yesterday, four Irish members of the European Parliament voted against a resolution that called for greater rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and I haven’t been this angry, for this long, in a very long time.
The four – Mairéad McGuinness, Seán Kelly, Maria Walsh and Frances Fitzgerald – are members of Ireland’s conservative Fine Gael party. A party that, coincidentally, did everything possible to delay the granting of reproductive rights to women due to the “pro-life” views of many of its members and voters.
Now, what kind of people would cold-bloodedly vote to leave men, women and children to drown?
The kind of people who have been sucked in by far-right propaganda as Fortress Europe continues its decades-long lurch to the right, that’s who.
Now, not even this collection of clowns is so callous as to simply tip the brown people overboard; no, instead, there is an intellectual justification offered.
The “European Parliament Resolution On Search And Rescue In The Mediterranean” that they voted against contained a clause that called on Frontex, the Eurpean Coastguard and Border Agency, to “significantly enhance the information available about its operational activities at sea and to make accurate and comprehensive information publicly available as regards its activities at sea, while acknowledging its legal obligation not to reveal operational information which would jeopardise attainment of the objectives of operations”.
The point of this is simple – to ensure that everyone on the water knows who to turn to in the event of an accident that sees people go overboard. If fishermen and pleasure boat crew and the rest don’t know who to call, then the people cannot be helped. It makes perfect sense for EVERY European citizen to know who Frontex are, what they do and, to a certain extent, how they do it.
Of course, the far-right have twisted this clause into a welcome mat, framing it as an open invitation to greedy migrants to take the riskiest crossing possible, something that guarantees people from all over Africa and the east a five-star rescue party, should they inconveniently find themselves in the water.
It would also ensure that human traffickers – odious criminals who charge people thousands of euros a head for these dangerous crossings and who disappear at the first sign of trouble – can continue in business, say the nay-sayers.
But, like the dinghies that criss-cross the Mediterranean, that Frontex/trafficking explanation doesn’t hold water, for a myriad of reasons.
The first is quite obvious, and yet these four geniuses could not between them muster the individual or collective brain power to consider it.
It is this – do they really believe that ANY parent would risk their child’s life, or indeed their own, on the off-chance that they might be picked up by a Frontex boat?
Do they have no inkling of how utterly ridiculous – or indeed insulting – this sounds?
The only reason you would put yourself or your child in a boat is if what’s behind you represents an even greater danger.
– Let’s head to Europe!
– Isn’t it dangerous?
– Nah, they have boats all over the place ready to pick us up!
This the magical thinking of those barely capable of thinking at all.
And the European People’s Party, and their far-right tale of racists and neo-Nazis.
Secondly, it is going to have no effect whatsoever on the reasons that these people are leaving their homes in the first place.
A Kurdish family, abandoned by the U.S. after fighting off ISIS and now forced to flee from Turkey, is not going to stop their journey simply because Frontex has called off its patrols. Nor is it going to decide to travel to begin with on the off-chance of getting picked up by one of their boats.
Nor is a gay man in Uganda who has been run out of his village, or an Eritrean conscript who has escaped from military service, or the Somali family running from Al-Shabbab. Their path is dictated by what they are fleeing from, not where they are running to.
But of course, our well-heeled parliamentarians cannot be expected to know any of this.
Hours after voting to let these people drown, Seán Kelly – a man whom I have met and had great respect for thanks to his work wiht the Gaelic Athletic Association – was tweeting a picture of his airport hamburger.
Put simply, I don’t believe that Seán or any of the rest of these idiots has ever met anyone who has taken that journey.
Because when you sit with people who have, and they tell you of the fear they felt, and of the dead friends and family they left in the water, there is no way that you could vote any other way than in their favour.
Then, of course, the excuses came.
Walsh – a politician so shallow that the only thing capable of drowning in her is the tiniest sliver of human decency she may once have possessed – tried to trot out the talking points on prime-time morning radio, but clearly had no idea what she was talking about.
She has also said that the resolution in itself is not legally binding, which makes their voting against it all the more bizarre – why vote against it, if it can be changed at a later date?
Nowhere could any of the four indicate any ideas or amendments they had put forward of their own to improve the bill or to deal with their concerns. It was a no that simply said “sorry, we have enough brown people and we don’t want any more.”
For that is what is at the heart of this.
Any politician that truly wants to end the thousands of drownings in the Mediterranean and who genuinely wants to put the people traffickers out of business would quickly realise that the only solution to both issues is swift, safe and legal passage into the EU – which would mean an end to Fortress Europe.
It would also mean an end to producing the weapons that are being used to slaughter Kurds and Yemenis and Hazara, and an end for support to regimes who murder homosexuals, intellectuals and journalists.
But that is not a price that the European People’s Party is prepared to pay – the clue is in the name. It’s about keeping Europe white, and everyone else out.
In trying to hold back the torrent of political sewerage being unleashed by the far right in recent years, the EPP has to hold its nose and adopt positions like these.
It cannot be seen to back down on immigration, regardless of the fact that the rights of those fleeing war and persecution are ostensibly guaranteed under international law. And even if it could, these are not the kind of people who care.
Many will read this and feel a genuine, yet impotent rage about these four imbeciles and their blind following of what is essential a white supremacist doctrine.
A few more will laugh at the ineptitude of Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, a man who “definitely would have” voted in favour of the resolution, but who was so committed to the cause of refugees that he left to get his bus to Frankfurt Airport before the vote was cast. It was subsequently lost by two votes.
These idiots are only partially responsible – back in May they saw their chance for a shot on the gravy train, and they took it. Hundreds of thousands of euros a year to push a button that sends others to drown in the Mediterranean.
The real fault lies with those voters who put them there – Walsh clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.
McGuinness – a woman who wanted more input from religious organisations into the workings of Europe but who has singularly failed in this instance to show any sort of compassion for her fellow human beings, has said her ethics should not be questioned, but she has been sucked in to voting against something so undeniably right that her political judgement is akin to the driving skills of a drunk that finds themselves upside down in a ditch on the way home from the pub.
Frances Fitzgerald was part of a government that continued to turn the screw on the Irish working class and nothing better can be expected from her, but as previously mentioned I have met Seán Kelly and I believed him to be a good man.
For that reason, I am both dismayed and distraught at how he has acted here. Mayou Angelou wrote that when people show you who they are, you should believe them the first time; it seems I was wrong, and there is very little chance of redemption here.
My question to their voters – the ones who bitch and moan yet vote for the same people, time and time again – is this; when are you going to start owning the consequences of your democratic choices?
When are you going to own up to the fact that your invisible hand is what is putting families into hubs, and others into boats, and destroying whatever hope for the future they might have?
When are you going to start realising that your lazy X for the tried-and-failed policies of the past is what is keeping this charade going?
The truth is that most voters are as ill-informed as their representatives – they don’t know what it’s like to leave a war and put their children in a boat in the dark, just to escape what they have left behind.
And as long as it doesn’t happen to them, they don’t care.
The questions is often asked – “but what are the alternatives?”
It answers itself – the alternative is NOT voting for parties that are in the pockets of developers, that gut social services and that condemn brown people to death in the cold, dark waters off Greece.
The other parties may have no track record of leadership, but on the upside, they haven’t bankrupted the country, given away its natural resources for a handful of magic beans, or destroyed the health, housing and education systems.
This is the zeitgeist – this is where Irish politics is right now, but change is possible, if you want it; and for the perpetually lazy, the good news is that you don’t even have to get off the couch.
You can start by asking those sitting beside you who they voted for, and why. Ask your dad or your sister if they are OK with the MEP they voted for callously cutting off rescue services for anyone, never mind children fleeing war zones, and leaving them to drown.
Ask them if they are OK with the rows of tents along the canals in Dublin, or homeless people dying on the streets of Cork, or children growing up in hotel rooms in Galway.
And if they are, ask them what their limit is – is it 5000 homeless children?
Is it 1000 Allan Kurdis, toddlers washed up dead on the shores of Libya and Greece and Italy?
Is it 3000?
In a functioning democracy, the only people who should live with any mild sense of fear are the elected representatives. They should feel the weight of their office and its responsibilities, and they should fear the fury of their voters should they fail to deliver.
In Ireland, there is no sign of that fear – instead there is a contempt that allows them to vote on each other’s behalf in the national parliament, thus blithely pissing on the constitution.
€94,000 a year and they can’t even push their own buttons in the chamber. They are coining it in, and thumbing their noses at you.
This is the Ireland we have, but is it the Ireland we want?
Because if you are not prepared to do anything to change it, then your answer has to be yes.